With your team, you get to write a business report where you present the problem, your analysis, and recommendations. Your recommendations should be supported by solid, compelling evidence (quantitative or qualitative) from relevant and respected sources. Although you are writing a business report, your academic expertise as soon-to-be MSc graduates should show! For example, be sure to make it clear how you conducted the study (research methods to some degree) and refer to theories, research reports and academic articles to back up your plan and implementation. However, your target audience is the case company, which is the fundamental criterion for you to critically evaluate the extent to which and how you use references.
Your Capstone report length should be approximately 5,000 words + appendices and references + executive summary (mandatory). The report is evaluated on a 0-5 scale based on the Business Writing and Capstone Rubrics that are available in the course workspace in MyCourses. Please make sure you familiarize yourself with the rubrics both before you start writing and before you hand in the report.
Below are general guidelines for writing a business report, provided for you by Anne Kankaanranta, our Senior University Lecturer in organizational communication. All Capstone cases are different, so feel free to adjust the guidelines to meet your specific purpose.
In planning the report, the most important point is to analyze the overall situation before you start. First, analyze your audience:
- who is your primary (case company) and secondary audience (faculty facilitators, peer students),
- what do they know already about the topic and how much you need to remind them of certain points,
- what do they feel and
- how can you motivate them.
Second, analyse yourself as a communicator: what is it exactly you want to achieve with your report and what is your credibility based on and how you can increase it with your report.
Typically, a Capstone report consists of the following elements:
Table of contents
Body of the report
Appendices and Exhibits
The title page includes the following:
1. title of report (this typically includes the case company's name)
2. case company's name (if not included in the title)
3. authors’ names and affiliation (Aalto University)
4. course name and code
A good title should clearly describe what the report is about. For example, Corporate Communication in practice – The Evaluation of Nokia’s CSR communication informs the reader what the topic of the report is.
The executive summary summarizes the whole report. Having read it, readers should know the essentials of the situation and, for example, be in a position to make a decision. If they require more detailed information or want to check facts they can read specific sections of the report.
The executive summary is organized in the same way/order as the whole report. You need to keep it brief (typically max. 1 page), but at the same time make sure you provide a comprehensive account of the main issues dealt with in your report.
The body of the report
The body of the report typically includes (1) an introduction, (2) findings/ analysis and (3) conclusions/recommendations although other structures are also possible. For example, you may have a separate section for methodology and another for literature.
The headings corresponding to the sections may or may not use this conventional wording.
- Gives the reason and motivation for the report.
- Provides background information e.g. earlier literature.
- Explains the problem statement and objective of the report, as well as research questions
- Refers to the sources of data and methodology employed. For example, if you made interviews, briefly describe the interviewees, the interview framework/questions, etc.
- Indicates the scope (what it covers, and what it doesn’t cover).
- Includes also a brief statement (one paragraph) to clarify how the work was divided and tasks allocated in your team, i.e. who contributed what data/knowledge/information and how you put the report together. Alternatively, this can be at the end of the report.
- Gives a short preview, e.g. This report is organized into four sections. Section 2 presents our findings, Section 3…
The Findings section contains all the relevant information you were able to obtain when you considered the assignment at hand. While you are reporting your findings, you could also discuss them in relation to the literature you studied (if any). In other words, you could first present what you found out (“findings”) and then you could discuss your findings and interpret them (“what they mean”). However, discussion can also take place in (Discussion and) Conclusions section of the report.
Aim to keep your text concise and to the point: only provide enough detail to effectively support the key points that you present. Consider putting very detailed information in the appendices.
Use pictures, tables, and figures to illustrate your points. Still, avoid irrelevant visualization as it makes your report restless. You can also use direct quotations from the interviewee to illustrate a point. However, remember that the text should be able to stand alone, in other words, comment on your illustrations in the text. For example, presenting a table in the text could follow this format: first introducing the table, then presenting it, and finally commenting on it.
Table 1 shows some background information about the personnel in the Corporate Communication function.
Table 1. Job title, work experience, age and education of Corporate Communication function employees in the ABC company.
Communication officer, internal
Communication officer, external
As can be seen from Table 1, the Corporate Communication function in the ABC company employs three full-time professionals… …
Conclude your report by summarizing the key findings. You may list them to ensure high skim value. Then, you could either interpret your findings and suggest what they might imply, or if you have done that earlier, you could summarize the implications. The recommendations can also be given in a separate section.
As you can imagine, it is important to make sure that the reader knows what you are doing: presenting findings or discussing the implications of your findings.
Compare the language of the following two examples:
(1) Presenting findings:
The interviewee emphasized the importance of knowing the role of the communication partner rather than knowing his/her nationality.
→ use the past tense to report your findings
(2) Presenting implications (based on your findings):
This finding suggests / might suggest / can reflect/ probably reflects a hierarchical organization, in which informal communication style may be discouraged.
→ use modal auxiliary verbs (can, might, etc.) and other tools to express uncertainty (e.g. words such as seem/tend; probably; suggest, contribute to)
When you are giving recommendations, make them stand out and present your rationale (i.e. support for them) explicitly. For example, you could do it like this:
Our three recommendations are presented below.
- Do this.
The rationale for doing this can be explicated by…
- Do that.
Doing that is crucial for the success of ….
- Do it.
The reasons for doing it can be summarized as….
As you know, there are various ways of listing the publications used in the report. Here are a couple of example observing the APA style:
A book: Cornelissen, J. (2017). Corporate Communication: A Guide to Theory and Practice. London: Sage.
An article in a journal: Hallahan, K., Holtzhausen, D., van Ruler, B., Vercic, D. & Sriramesh, K. (2007). Defining Strategic Communication. International Journal of Strategic Communication, 1(1), 3-35.
A web source: StoraEnso (2017). Annual Report. Retrieved September, 2018, from www.storaenso.com
Giving references within the text
There are basically two ways of giving references in the body of the report. In business, references within the body of the report are often numbered and then the sources are listed at the end of each section or at the end of the whole report. In academic papers, such as your Master’s thesis, on the other hand, the author and the year of the particular publication referenced are typically given in the text itself. Typically the former is used in Capstone reports but it is up to you to decide which one to use.
Appendices and Exhibits
Documents referred to in the report are usually placed at the end of the report rather than in the body, where they will slow the reader down. This helps the reader to follow the main lines of your argument and stops him/her being side-tracked by clutter.
Make sure appendix material is referred to in the main body. If no reference is made to it, your reader is likely to assume it has no importance and to question why it is there at all. For example, you could say
As you can see from Appendix 1, five themes were used in the interview to find out…Some links to university websites on report writing
An outline with five themes was used in the interview to find out…(see Appendix 2)
Appendices should appear in the order they are presented in the text of the report and should always have a title and be numbered.
 This is a ‘footnote’ and it is used to give some additional information. The same numbering system is used when sources are given but they would not appear at the end of the page (like this footnote) but at the end of the whole report. Such lists of sources (references) are called ‘endnotes’.